Pathogen Specialization

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Science  31 Jan 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6170, pp. 496-497
DOI: 10.1126/science.1250171

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Plants can be attacked by a vast range of pathogen classes, causing substantial agricultural losses. The Phytophthora (meaning “plant killer”) genus is a particularly destructive pathogen that causes root and stem base decay in a wide range of plants. Phytophthora infestans, which precipitated the Irish potato famine, originated in Central Mexico and is closely related to other Phytophthora species with distinct host ranges (1, 2). Pathogen effectors that are secreted during infection play a key role in disease biology, but effector-induced adaptation to new hosts is an understudied topic. On page 552 of this issue, Dong et al. investigate how Phytophthora effector proteins evolve the ability to specialize on new hosts (see the figure) (3).